On a bitter cold Saturday night, late December in 1976, the men of Koos Inc. gathered in the backroom of Mario’s Red Arrow Club on Sheridan Road in Kenosha. The reason for this get-together was a Union Christmas party. UFCW Local 73A was good enough to sponsor the much-appreciated gathering for the workforce from Koos. This night was going to be an event to be remembered. This celebration would be a first. Never before had the Union workers at Koos Inc. had an official Christmas function. Tonight that would all change.
The year before, not only was there no party, the employees had to work until 11:00 o’clock on Christmas Eve morning. Of course the beer that was smuggled into the plant created a somewhat cheerful atmosphere, but it still wasn’t a party. Not even the numerous pints of blackberry brandy purchased from the nearby Beer Depot could do the trick. It just wasn’t a party.
The people in management always had a nice little soiree each year, but nothing for the guys in the Union. This year was going to be different. The guys in the plant were finally going to have a bash of their own.
And what a bash it was!
The backroom at Mario’s Red Arrow Club was dimly lit, long and narrow, with a chest-high wall at one end that separated a small kitchen from the rest of the hall. This might have been the back of a smoke filled neighborhood bar, but it was perfect for this inaugural event.
The good people from UFCW had provided the guys from Koos with enough money for the hall, food, a keg of beer and a couple of bottles of hard liquor. Several of us had even brought festive holiday deserts. What more was needed? Let the party begin!
Because we were new to this Christmas party thing, most of us had neglected to bring a date. The only females present for the event were Ziggy Gutowski’s wife and the aunt of Danny Fliess who brought her two daughters. Other than that the guest list was strictly male.
It was still going to be quite a shindig, trust me.
While the sloppy joes warmed in the crock-pot and the hot dogs simmered in a large pot of oiling water, we decided to start playing cards. While Ted Nugent blared through the speakers hung on the walls, the collection of partygoers broke into two separate games of cards, one at each end of the room.
Located at the east end was a boisterous group of Koos veterans, consisting of Danny Fliess, the legendary Arno Schubert, Jim Weber, Munk Ekern, Harry Leipzig, along with several others. They were playing poker for cash and the shots of Wild Turkey were flying.
Joining me at the other end of the hall, near the kitchen area, were Chuckie Haubrich, Chuck Huck and some of the newer employees. Rather than gamble, we had opted to play drinking games where the loser had to guzzle a beer. The card playing was sloppy, but the suds were cold.
The party was in full swing and everyone was having a high-spirited time. That is until our group spotted a humongous can of black olives.
As we were attempting to get the can of olives open, the group from the east end informed us that they wanted some of the olives. The diminutive Chuck Huck put a handful on a paper plate and brought it over to them.
Evidently this was not good enough for them.
Several members of their contingent made their way over to our table and demanded the whole can of olives. We would have no part of that and we all grabbed a big handful and told them that they were all ours!
Seeing that we were not giving up the olives peacefully, the “east-enders” grabbed the can and made off with it and the remaining olives. We were outraged and shouted, “You want all the olives?” With that the war was on. Olives were flying from one end of the hall to the other.
Unfortunately, the olives were only the beginning. Soon cups of beer were being flung across the room. Being near the kitchen area, our group decided to “escalate” the battle. Using cooking tongs, we began plucking hot dogs from the boiling water and used them as projectiles in our efforts during this now epic battle. The frankfurters were flying!
This melee resembled a scene from any Three Stooges film. At this point it was pure chaos.
Then something happened that momentarily brought the frantic food fight to an abrupt stop. For some unknown reason, Chuckie Haubrich grabbed a big handful of raw ground beef, wadded into a lump the size of a baseball and hurled it across the hall at Arno Schubert’s oddly shaped head.
Before I go on, for those of you who don’t know Chuckie Haubrich, he possessed an extremely strong throwing arm. The man could throw a ping-pong ball through a brick wall.
Now back to the story.
Splat!!!! The sphere of uncooked ground beef had found its’ target – the right side of Arno’s scarred face. Chuckie Haubrich would have made Nolan Ryan proud with that toss.
Seeing what happened, we started chuckling as Arno staggered while trying to regain his bearings. It didn’t take long before everyone in the room was roaring with laughter. Well, everyone except for Arno.
With the glob of raw meat still stuck on his face, he picked up a pan up of orange Jell-O topped with whipped cream. Fuming, with the desert held at shoulder height, he unsteadily made his way over to our end of the room.
As he got closer, he spat out, “You think it’s funny?” Everyone continued to snicker, wondering if he would actually retaliate against Chuckie Haubrich. After all, he was the one who had tattooed him with the beefy missile. When he finally reached our cluster, Arno walked right by the 6’4” 250 pound Haubrich.
Instead, he turned to the 5’7” 150 pound Chuck Huck and hissed yet again, “You think it’s funny?” At that point you could have heard a pin drop.
Huck stared the irate German right in the eye and blurted out, “Hell ya it’s funny!”
You guessed it. Chuck Huck was now wearing the pan of orange Jell-O and whipped cream all over his head. Needless to say, the war was on again. Only, now cakes and various other creamy delights had been added to the arsenal.
When all was said and done, the backroom of Mario’s Red Arrow Club was declared a disaster area. Food was not only on the walls and floor, but on the ceiling as well. As we scraped our holiday meal off of our clothes, the manager of Mario’s kindly asked us to leave. Okay, maybe it wasn’t so kindly. He told us to get out and never come back.
It should be noted that the Union didn’t get the deposit back for the hall. And there was never another UFCW sponsored Christmas party. That Christmas party was the first and last for the Union guys at Koos. It was the only Christmas Party. Ever.
But what a bash it was!
May you all have a Happy Holiday season and a very Merry and Blessed Christmas. Until next time…from the booth.